"Of Respect to Superiors."

By Mark Tully, 55th Foot

There are very few period sources that describe salutes in any great detail. Cuthbertson covers the topic to some extent, but perhaps the most complete guidelines come from a treatise on military discipline that was published both in London (1773) and in Philadelphia (1776):

Sect. II.
Of Respect to Superiors.
A due deference to our Superiors may justly be esteemed and termed the first principle of discipline; it being a certainty, that where that is not observed, no authority can possibly exist: We are therefore, on every occasion, not only to testify our attention, submission, and respect to all those whom his Majesty shall think fit to place above us; but we are, by our example, to induce others to do the same, and to see it impressed by times on the juvenile part of the army.

Art. I.
Of Deportment.
The Corporal is first to direct and inform his recruits that whenever they are spoke to, either by himself or by any other their superior, they never offer or presume on the occasion, to sit, lean, or appear in any careless or indifferent posture, but at once to raise themselves up, and to stand erect, and with a gradual motion of the right hand to take off their hats, letting the hat with both hands fall and hang easily down by their sides. That their countenance be open, calm, and attentive; and that they give mild and submissive answers to all questions as may be asked them. After which instruction, he is to take occasion to speak to them himself, and to ask them questions, in order to observe their behaviour, and to perfect them in it.

Art. II.
Of the Standing Salute.
Before I proceed to lay down rules for the Salute, I beg leave to explain what I comprehend of it, in order that I may be the better understood. A Salute then conveys to me an idea of gentleness and calmness, in opposition to whatever is hasty, stiff, and pert; than which nothing can be, in my opinion, more disgustful and forbidding; and therefore, I take it, that whatever part of the salute is performed with a snatch or a bounce, as is by some thought military, is repugnant to my idea of a salute; and according to this my notion, I shall frame my instructions. The standing or front salute, then, is given either upon addressing or receiving a superior. In the performance of which the recruit is, at about the distance of six paces from the person to be saluted, to raise his right hand with a gentle motion to his hat, and in such a manner that he may easily take hold of the front cock, without the least inclination of his head, and without drawing up his shoulders at the same time. The hat is to be held between the thumb and fingers, and lifted perpendicularly off the head, moving it then so far horizontally to the right that no part of the bole may be over the head; when he is to let it and the hand fall gradually down by his side, turning the bole inwards to his thigh, and letting it there remain during the time of the address; after which let him place it again upon his head with the like gradual motion, as when it was first taken off. In raising the arm to take off or put on the hat, let the elbow be square, and the lower part of the arm kept level, which will give a graceful angle at the wrist, when the hand has hold of the hat. During the time of address his countenance is to be preserved open and serene, with a steady and manly aspect, taking care that his eyes be not then so clownishly contracted, as if he were looking at an object that dazzled him; nor his looks so confused, as if there were a conflict in them between bashfulness and assurance; and, lastly, that his body be kept erect, and void of all seeming stiffness.

Art. III.
Of the passing Salute.
The passing or side salute is given on passing by a superior, and is performed thus: The hat is to be taken off and let fall down by the side, in the same manner as was shewn in the last article, but with this difference, that it be now taken off with the hand the most distant from the person to be saluted; turning the head at the same time, and looking at him with a cool and respectful countenance; but never with a smile, as that carries with it too great an air of freedom, which must never be taken or admitted with a superior.

SOURCE: A New System of Military Discipline Founded upon Principle, by a General Officer [Richard Lambert, 6th Earl of Cavan], printed and sold by R. Aitken, Philadelphia, 1776. Cavan was colonel of the 55th Regiment of Foot from 1773-1775.

A complete transcript of this treatise can be seen on the 55th of Foot's web site.

Special thanks to Linnea Bass for turning me on to Cavan's New System!